Week 10 Music Notes

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This week Judy Uhl’s husband David will lead the group and aims to have us all singing by the time we’re done. So instead of talking about the music, we’ll be doing it! The song David plans to teach us is Idumea, and it’s on the CD, so you’ll hear it before class. There are two versions of Idumea on the disc, one by a shape note group, the second by Doc Watson with Gaither Carlton accompanying on fiddle.

The CD begins with the three shape note selections Harry included on the Anthology (song numbers 44-46). Rocky Road and Present Joys are sung by the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, a group led by Whit Denson, who recorded with a number of other groups around this time. Present Joys is a fuguing tune: all four parts (tenors, altos, sopranos, basses) start together and stay together for the first four measures. After this opening statement, the four parts rejoin the music one at a time, one measure apart, singing material that is always closely related, and often identical, to that of each of the other parts. Present Joys was first published in 1909. I couldn’t find any information about the Middle Georgia Singing Convention. They are apparently an African-American group, and Harry thinks they reflect an earlier performance style than the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers.

The next three songs are taken from the CD I Belong to This Band: Eighty-Five Years of Sacred Harp Recordings. The number attached to each of the songs represents the page of The Sacred Harp on which the song appears (“b” is bottom, “t” is top). Save, Lord, or We Perish was recorded at the Henagar Union Convention in 2006. The Roswell Sacred Harp Quartet were from Roswell, Georgia, and they recorded Weeping Mary in 1940. The Original Sacred Harp Choir were the first sacred harp group to record, in 1922. The makeshift studio arrangements under which most of the early Sacred Harp recordings were made would have made it impossible for the choirs to assume their usual seating arrangement, with the singers of each part forming one side of a square and the leader standing in the center. In 1922, when acoustical recording was the only method available, they would all have been gathered around a giant horn that transferred their sound directly to disc.

Lover of the Lord, by the Huggins and Phillips Sacred Harp Singers appears on the stunning 6-CD set, Goodbye, Babylon, issued by Dust-to-Digital, about whom Dan Watt posted way back in August. Dust-to-Digital also did the I Belong to This Band CD.

Before David takes over on Tuesday, we’ll see a ten-minute student film that grew into the feature length Awake, My Soul. In an October post, I wrote a little about the film, and attached the trailer. The rest of the music on our Week 10 CD is from a 2-CD set inspired by the film. The first CD is a film soundtrack, and Jordan, Idumea, Corinth, and New Britain (which you’ll recognize as Amazing Grace) are from this CD. Jordan was recorded at the Holly Springs Primitive Baptist Church in Bremen, Georgia, the others at Liberty Baptist Church in Henagar, Alabama.

The second CD of the set, Help Me to Sing, gives us what the CD’s liner notes call “the first ever popular music adaptations of Sacred Harp songs.” I’ve chosen three of the twenty to round out this disc. Doc Watson provides a heartfelt version of Idumea, recorded in 1964 by Ralph Rinzler, who fortuitously discovered Doc while he was in the process of rediscovering Tom Ashley. This is the song we’ll sing on Tuesday, but we won’t sound this good. Singer-songwriter Liz Janes’s Abbeville is spare and almost empty compared to the big sound of a choir, revealing, I think a different kind of beauty in the song. And yes, one of the instruments is a saw.

Innocence Mission is Karen Perls, Don Perls, and Mike Bitts. They make beautiful music to which I am unable to assign a genre. Visit their homepage here. Karen Perls wrote about recording this song, “it would be impossible to sing those words and not be swept up in decisive joy and feel that this is just what you most want to express.” May we all feel that same decisive joy on Tuesday when we hear and sing these wonderful songs. Enjoy the music and see you then!

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